February Gardening Tips

February is the month in your garden you really start to feel like it’s going to be a great year for gardening again. It’s still cold out there but you’ve got the inspiration and the sun light coming back and there’s never been a better time to start prepare summer gardening. There are plenty of jobs to be getting on with in the garden in February and I’m going to go through a good list of them, as we’re heading into Spring.

  1. Get started on the weeding. There’s nothing like preparing your borders and your planting beds and the best way to do that is a quick dig and remove all of the unnecessary weeds. This is great time as they’ll not come back before the planting of your seedlings and therefore there won’t be any competition for food or sunlight.
  2. This is a great time to get into the shed and check that you’ve got all of your tools in order. Make sure that any of your lawn mowers or leaf blowers have been well serviced with grease and oil.
  3. This is the perfect time to get your seeds in order. Make sure that you have all of the sowing order ready to go and then you’ve got all of your seed planting trays ready to roll as well. Being organised now means that when the summer warmer months are here you’ll enjoy the garden all the more.
  4. This is a great time to mix a bit of compost into the ground at the same time as having everything ready for the seedlings that will be coming along soon.
  5. You probably still want to wait until March to use the lawn mower, but nothing stopping you collect up all the leaves with a handy leaf blower vacuum.

February: A great time to prune and tidy up.

This is one of the best times to get your Wisteria and Fuchsias. Giving them a quick prune now will result in an excellent growth this summer. It’s an excellent time to take advantage and get all of the pruning on any of your traps really. Get everything nice and clean and organised and it means that it will be one less job as you approach spring.

In the vegetable garden.

One of the vegetables that I like to plant every single year is the potato. So it’s fitting to start with chitting potatoes in February. Just make sure that you have some kind of container that will hold them upright and place them where there’s plenty of sunshine.

There’s nothing quite as exciting is actually growing your own potatoes and providing yourself with plenty of sustenance from the garden. Potatoes that just one of those things that really make a big difference in terms of the amount of food you actually need to purchase outside. For that reason I always have them at the top of my list for February.

Building raised vegetable beds in February to promote early warmth.

One of the best tricks I know is to start building raised beds in February. This is really beneficial for your vegetables because we can get a really early start on them and that gets you ahead of the curve.

Because the surface area of a raised bed is larger it means that the sun can penetrate and warm the ground more easily, that’s ideal for vegetable seedlings and it will result in you having a bigger and healthier crop. Raised beds are also a great way of watering and penetrating the soil.

What to do in February with the fruit garden

One of the most important things I do in February is make sure that I’m pruning the black car gooseberries, and raspberries. this is exactly the right time of year to get this done. The idea is you’re doing this before any of the growth occurs.

I also create some sort of propagator for my strawberries out of perspex or glass (if it’s safety toughened), many people advocate the use of some cloth material over the top of your plants but I prefer my method here.

I hope that in this article of ‘what to do in February with the garden’ you’ve picked up some really handy tips and if there’s anything that I’ve missed them please feel free to drop me a message and let me know so that I can add it to this great list and resource.

Can NASA Really Grow Plants on the Moon?

In a move that sounds like something out of a science fiction film – or one of those old sci-fi novels/comics that depicted plant life on planets like Venus – NASA has announced plans to try and grow plants on the moon. Yep, the American space agency will blast off for the barren and lifeless rock that orbits our fair planet in an experiment to see if plants can grow there. The experiment aims to find out if plant life can thrive in space, and if so it could pave the way for humans to thrive in space too.

Arabidopsis plant (Wikimedia Commons)
Arabidopsis plant (Wikimedia Commons)

To sow the seeds of greenery in the grey dust of the Moon, NASA is transporting seeds in sealed canisters that are set to head into the darkness above by 2015 and hopefully germinate. The seeds they’ve picked are 10 seeds of basil, 10 of turnip and 100 of Arabidopsis; a small flowering plant that is related to cabbage and mustard. The latter contains thale cress, and as any changes in the cress are easily observed it’s the ideal plant to use for the study.

Once the Moon Express lander – a commercial spacecraft that is competing for Google’s Lunar X-Prize – has landed a small reservoir of water will be released into the canisters containing the seeds. From there NASA will monitor the seeds germination process in an effort to see how it reacts in lunar gravity and the surrounding radioactive environment. There’s enough air inside the canisters to last 5 days, so it’s not a long term experiment. But it’s not like NASA are planting them in soil, it’s simply to see if humans will ever be able to grow plants if a colony is one day established there.

A spokesman for NASA alluded to a “canary in a coal mine” example. If the plants fail to germinate then, like the canary dropping dead from gas, humans would be unlikely to be able to survive there. While the initial experiment only aims to monitor the seeds for 5 to 10 days, comparing them to Earth-based control seedlings that will grow at the same time, future experiments hope to extend the length. If a plant can survive for 14 days on the moon it will demonstrate that plants can successfully grow in the moons radioactive environment.

A plant surviving for 60 days will show that meiosis – the sexual reproduction of a plant – will be able to naturally occur. If the plant manages to survive to 180 days it will show the effects of radiation on the dominant and recessive genetic traits of the plant, and from then on the experiment can carry on for longer and through multiple generations of plant species. The team will monitor progress via photos taken and beamed back to our blue marble.

It’s not the first time that plants have been grown in space; research has been carried out on space shuttles and the International Space Station in the past. However, this will be the first time that a lunar experiment involving plants will be carried out.

Let’s hope that the future is bright and we’ll one day have turnip farmers on the moon!

Why Do Leaves Turn Red In Autumn?

Autumn is the most beautiful season of the year; at least it is if you enjoy watching leaves turn from their normal green to myriad shades of reds, yellows and browns, before needing a leaf blower of course and who doesn’t love that? One of the most striking colours that a trees leaves can become is a crimson red, and you’ll be hard tasked to find anyone that disagrees that it’s a sight of pure beauty. But why do leaves turn red? Why do leaves change colour in the first place? To find out we first need to talk about why leaves are green in the first place.

Find out after the jump!

Why Are Leaves Green?

Photosynthesis
Photosynthesis

We all learn about what leaves are for in science classes at school, but if you’ve forgotten then here’s a refresher course. Leaves get their green colour due to the processes they go through to help keep a plant or tree alive and healthy. Leaves are crucial in the photosynthesis process; a process that is used by plants to convert light energy into the chemical energy, which uses carbon dioxide and water collected by the plant to turn into carbohydrates, such as sugars, which are then stored by the plant as food. Light energy is captured by chlorophyll, and this pigment is what gives leaves their green colour. Chlorophyll is only created when plants have the sunlight required, although it does not enjoy bright sunlight. Thus, in summer when the sun is at its peak, plenty of chlorophyll is produced and keeps the leaves green.

Yellow Leaves

As the summer draws to a close and the days get shorter less sunlight is available for the plants, so less chlorophyll is produced. Instead of chlorophyll the yellow pigment carotene remains, which had previously been used to help chlorophyll carry out its photosynthesis job. This pigment is also what gives carrots their orange colour, but left in leaves it gradually appears in place of green as the sunlight diminishes. The temperature also affects the level of chlorophyll in leaves too, so a particularly cold autumn will result in the leaves turning yellow a lot quicker.

So, Why Do Leaves Turn Red?

You may have noticed leaves turning red just before they drop from the trees in time for winter. As trees will no longer be able to carry out photosynthesis during the winter, the tree creates a layer of cells at the base of the leaf stalk in order to cut it off from the rest of the tree, thus restricting the movement of sugars and the leaf collector draws close. During this process some trees produce anthocyanin, a purple/red pigment. Not all trees will produce these however, and it totally depends on the situation. This is why you’ll never see some trees with read leaves, and it’s also why the amount and vibrancy of the red leaves is different each year and not to be confused with burnt leaves or unhealthy stressed leaves.

The layer of cells that cuts off the leaf from the tree does so to protect the tree from drying out during the cold winter. The tree will then shed its leaves to conserve energy, but before doing so it also attempts to suck in as much sugar and nutrients from its leaves as possible to see it through to the spring. The prevailing theory is that anthocyanins are produced to protect the leaves from excess sunlight while the tree carries out the job of sucking up any remaining energy. Since we sometimes get some bright and sunny days during winter, the tree will produce more anthocyanin in order to protect the leaf as best as possible – turning it a more vibrant red. If the winter lacks much sunlight, has many days below freezing or doesn’t have much rain then you won’t see as many red leaves around.

So, to have a winter full of redness we need to get the weather to cooperate. Unfortunately we don’t yet have that power, although I’m still crossing my fingers for a magic wand that allows me to stop the rain with a quick flick of my wrist. Oh, and be a billionaire too of course – but that’s a given!

What to do in your Garden in November

I kicked off November with a can of dicer and a scraper in a pair of hands that felt more like I’d shoved them in the freezer and fondled a bag of frozen garden peas for a while. It’s getting colder, and my frozen little Peugeot 107 doesn’t like it. If that’s how my not-so-much beast of a car is feeling, what about the many gardens dotted around the UK? Thankfully I’ve already helped the plants by writing this ‘protecting plants from frost or snow’ guide, but if you’re at a loss about what you’re supposed to do in the garden in the short cold days of November then seal your eyeballs on this guide to what to do in your garden in November and know it’ll be the last time you pull the lawn mower our or work with the hedge trimmer. But it’ll bring new challenges, you’ll have the leaf blower out everyday.

Things You Should Do In Your Garden In November

Much of what you’ll be doing concerns tidying up and preparing your garden to endure the winter.

General Jobs

Rake up leaves in compost bin
  • Remove things left over from summer planting: Do a tidy up and pull up things like canes and supports that you only used for summer crops. Leaving them out through winter could just render them useless next summer so good preparation is worth it thanks to a battering by the weather.
  • Rake up leaves: You’ll have probably started this anyway, but being autumn you’ll find that leaves are a common occurrence. Rake up all those leaves that have fallen onto your lawn and other parts of the garden, before putting them into a compost bin (in a separate compartment to the general compost) so that you can’t start getting leaf mould for future projects.
  • Set-up some winter protection: To protect delicate plants from the cold weather you’ll need to create some kind of protection or bring them inside for the winter.
  • Prepare your soil: This is your last chance to get the soil prepared, as it will be too frozen or wet during winter to do anything with. Clear weeds and old dead plants, mulching the soil as you go. Mulching will prevent leaching and erosion of the soil throughout the winter. Adding compost to the soil will also help improve it in time for spring planting.
  • If you’re building a bonfire (particularly on 5 November) make sure you check for any hibernating hedgehogs before you light the fire. Personally I prefer a shredder now because that mulch is so useful for the fight against drought and looking after your plants in the summer.
  • Take a spike to the lawns: Put grit into the holes created so that surface drainage is improved.
  • Edge your lawn to make it look neat and tidy.
  • Wash and dry any unused pots, seed trays and containers before putting into storage. This will ensure pests and diseases don’t linger until you want to use them again next year.
  • Clean gardening tools too, applying oil so that they won’t rust while unused.
  • If you’ve got a greenhouse then give it a good clean out. Wash the windows inside and out to allow the maximum amount of light in during the darker winter months. Give it all a good disinfectant, giving everything a good scrub, so that no nasty diseases are left lingering. If any glass is damaged then make sure to replace it before winter arrives. If it’s not already then you should also insulate it to reduce heat loss.

Flowers and Plants

  • Divide perennials
  • Keep watering until the ground freezes over.
  • Take a look at our winter flowers guide.
  • You can plant daffodil and tulip bulbs now for them to flower in spring. I like a bulb planter.
  • Bring delicate perennials inside to wait out the winter
  • You can also plant bare-root roses now.
  • Start planning what you’re going to plant next year. Since you’re doing less in the garden you can take some time to start formulating a plan about what you want next year’s garden to look like, perhaps even some landscaping.
  • Move deciduous shrubs and trees, such as conifers and evergreens that are now too big for their positions. Give them a prune with some nice shears or shrub trimmers, taking cuttings to place in sheltered spots with a sharp grafting knife.
  • Make sure the soil is firm around newly planted trees and shrubs, as the wind can pull them out.
Daffodils

Fruit and Vegetables

  • Dig up any summer crops and pop them in the compost.
  • You can now harvest carrots, cauliflower, cabbages, parsnips and endive.
  • Prepare a perennial vegetable bed where rhubarb and asparagus can be planted. You can also plant onion sets, garlic, mushrooms and broad beans.
  • Congested clumps of rhubarb need to lifted and divided.
  • Spread any manure you have over vegetable beds so that it can rot down over winter.
  • Currant bushes can now be planted while they are dormant, as can raspberry canes.
  • Prune pear, apple and fig trees. Plum trees should be left alone as they can develop silver leaf fungus if pruned now.
  • Check and fruits in storage and remove any that are showing signs of rotting before it has chance to spread.
  • Tidy up strawberry beds by removing unwanted runners, weeds and old leaves.

Wildlife

  • Fill up bird feeders and provide fresh water. Here’s everything you need to know about bird feeders. Remember to keep a check on food supplies, and check the water daily to ensure it hasn’t frozen over.
  • Gather a small stack of logs to act as a shelter for insects and amphibians throughout winter

Have anything to add? Please comment below!

Easy To Grow Vegetables for Small Gardens

Easy To Grow Vegetables

The desire for a more back to basics lifestyle has meant that more of us than ever are trying to grow our own vegetables even trying to introduce it to our children. There is nothing better than harvesting your first crop of carrots or potatoes, but many people with tiny gardens think that they simply don’t have the space for growing anything at all, that couldn’t be further from the truth, grow walls have proved we can grow upwards rather than outwards. This is not the case, and there are vegetables which can be grown in tiny spaces, on balconies, in pots or in other very restricted spaces, of course the best gardening tools always help in tight spots.

Beetroot

Beetroot is very good for you, and is one of the easiest crops to grow. All that you need to grow beetroot is a long narrow container such as a trough, as the seeds need to be sown at least 9 inches apart. Beetroot seeds should be sown in April, slightly earlier if you have a propagator, and should be ready to be harvested in late summer around August with the many other jobs. They withstand the cold well so are good for growing on a balcony or directly into the earth(here’s how to take steps to make sure your soil is tip top) if you don’t have a greenhouse, and they do not require a great deal of looking after. Some of the best varieties to look for as a beginner gardener are Red Ace or Golden Detroit. Beetroot is traditionally eaten pickled in vinegar, but can also be eaten as a normal vegetable, or even added to sweet dishes like a chocolate cake.

Courgette

Courgettes give you a high yield, meaning that you get a lot of vegetables from a relatively small space. You can grow courgettes from seeds, but it is easiest to buy young plants from trays in spring and then put them out in the garden once the weather gets warmer. Courgettes will continue to grow throughout the summer, so as soon as the first fruits get to around 10cm long, cut them and use them and more will grow in their place. Many newbie gardeners find that their courgette crop is so successful that they have a glut of the fruits and simply cannot use all of the courgettes they produce. If this happens, a glut of courgettes can be turned into chutney, soup or other dishes which can be frozen and kept for months.

Rocket

There is nothing better than having a fresh supply of salad leaves on tap at all times, and one of the easiest to grow is rocket. Rocket does not take long to grow over the warmer months, so sow new plants every 2 or 3 weeks in a small tub or pot at the back door to ensure there is a constant supply of fresh leaves throughout the spring and summer. Keep it watered when the weather turns hot, and it can be grown as late in the year as September or October. Bare in mind Rocket will send the slugs crazy. Rocket has to be eaten fresh as the leaves do not keep well or freeze, and so it is best to only plant as much rocket as you are going to be able to eat comfortably. Gardening is good for you when you’re eating such quality produce.

Pumpkin

You will need a little more space to grow a pumpkin, as experts recommend that you need one square metre of space for two plants. Pumpkins can be easily grown from seed, although they cannot be planted outdoors until the last frosts of the year have passed. Once planted they will not require a great deal of attention, although it is usually best to raise them up off the soil using straw or an upturned pot. Pumpkins and other types of squash are generally ready to be harvested in September or October, and there is nothing better than making your pumpkin lantern out of something you have grown yourself. Pumpkin can be kept for several months after it has been harvested and can be cooked and frozen for use over the winter months. Make sure you keep the seeds as you can have more free plants next year.

Peas

Kids love to grow peas and enjoy the excitement of popping them out of their pods when ripe. The benefit of growing peas is that they grow vertically rather than horizontally, making them a good choice for growing on a balcony or in a sunny spot in the back garden. It is best to sow peas between March and June, and the crop should be ready to harvest in around 14 weeks. Mange tout and sugar snap peas are the easiest sorts of peas to grow, with the added bonus that you can eat the pods too.

If you’re feeling different you could give a Tomtato a go or perhaps some really super hot chillis.

 

Keeping Chickens In the Garden Guide: Chickens and UK Law

The first two parts of the Keeping Chickens in the Garden Guide dealt with the advantages and downsides to keeping chickens. Now we’re going to take a look at UK law and the rules and regulations you need to be aware of when you’re keeping chickens. While there are no national laws preventing you from keeping chickens in the garden, there is still advice you need to heed and rules, such as animal husbandry laws, that need to be followed. There are also certain laws governing the sale of eggs, but first let’s what look at what you need to know about keeping chickens in your local area.

Chickens and UK Law

While the UK government does not require you to register with DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) if you have under 50 poultry (poultry includes chickens, geese, ducks, partridge, turkeys, quail, pheasants, pigeons for meat, emu, ostrich, guinea fowl and rhea) you do have to register if that number exceeds 50 at any one time to the Poultry Register. The reason for this is so any substantial poultry owners can be notified of disease outbreaks such as Avian Influenza. If you have fewer than 50 you can register if you desire, but this isn’t a legal requirement. However, Northern Ireland residents have to follow different rules and are required to register with DARD (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development) in order to be placed on the Bird Register.

So, now that we’ve got the national law out of the way you should be able to keep chickens, right? Unfortunately you still may not be able to, as rules in your local area may prevent it, a bit annoying really seeing as how good chicken poo is for soil quality. By-laws on certain properties may state that livestock isn’t allowed to be kept. To find out if these affect your property you should contact your local council. Similarly, housing authorities may have covenants that prevent chickens from being kept on the property they own. Again, you will have to contact the people in charge of the housing authority if you’re unsure about whether this applies to you. Finally, house deeds may prevent you from keeping livestock to.

Your Neighbours

While neither of these may affect you, you still need to take into account that your neighbours may complain to your local council. If your chickens are noisy and can be heard from the next house along then you may start irritating your neighbours, so it’s a good idea to let them know if you’re planning on keeping chickens on your property. The Noise Act 1996 could come into play if your chickens are making noises all night, although there are things you can do to keep noise levels to a minimum that we will talk about in a future instalment. Also don’t let them loose in neighbours gardens obviously.

If you start getting warnings from your local authority then that should tell you that you’re doing something wrong. Basically, just be sensitive to your neighbours nearby and you should have no problems.

Animal Welfare

Chickens are covered by the Protection of Animals Act 1911 that prevents any cruelty towards animals in your care. While we’re not saying that you will intentionally harm chickens, sometimes you can be cruel to animals indirectly by forgetting to do something, like keep them well watered. The Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Laying Hens says that chickens should have ‘freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour’. They also be given freedom of a comfortable environment, with shelter and a resting area, and also have a freedom to express their natural behaviour by giving them enough space and the company of animals of their own kind. They should also be regularly checked to prevent, diagnose and treat any diseases or injuries, and the freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions are good enough to avoid mental suffering. Part of this involves providing enough security to be protected from predators, such as foxes. Even if the fox is shooed away after getting in, the chickens could be mentally strained by the event.

Failure to provide proper care could lead to prosecution, fines, a ban from keeping livestock in the future and even jail time for repeated offences.

Selling Eggs

If you want to sell the eggs produced by your chickens then there are a few regulations you need to be aware of. Many of the regulations won’t apply to you if you’re only keeping a small flock of chickens. If you are only selling eggs to friends, family and your neighbours then you don’t need to do anything; providing your flock remains under 50. However, you cannot sell eggs to shops, restaurants or bakeries without first being approved and authorised as a packing centre by the EMI (Egg Marketing Inspectorate) as they need to be graded as Class A eggs. You can sell at local markets providing you have fewer than 50 hens.

 

Everything You Need To Know About Bird Feeding

The Ultimate Guide to Bird Feeding

Bird feeding is one of those things that people think is simple – “we’ll chuck a few slices of bread outside; that will do the trick”. No. No it won’t. Whilst this is the approach most people take, you could in fact be putting more birds at risk than you would by not feeding them especially if you’ve got a super accurate lawnmower that cuts grass very fine birds will be far too exposed, so let’s take a look at some of the essentials you should know if you really want to help your feathered garden friends out. Attracting birds is a crucial part of any garden but we can’t just lay out food anywhere, so here’s one good bird feeder method, creative gardening is important when looking to bring wildlife in. 

When surveyed, more than 95% of the people that participated said that watching and/or listening to birds made them happier and made their garden a far nicer place to be, good for both mind and body. This information makes it fairly safe to say that we are a bird loving nation – despite the fact we don’t practice it as a hobby as much as our neighbours across the pond!

Nonetheless, things can change, and hopefully reading this essentials guide should put you on the right track to helping those garden visitors, and do check out my rearing chicken article too, as well as making us a far more recognised nation when it comes to our feathered friends.

We should admit now, that the title might be slightly misleading – explaining everything you need to know about bird feeding would take you days to read through (assuming we could piece it all together). Instead, we’re condensing it into the fundamental points which will help you feed birds safely and effectively without boring you too much.

Types of Feeding Station

The type of feeding station you have makes up just one factor that dictates how safe your birds are when they come to feed. Simply putting some breadcrumbs on the ground opens them up to being attacked by pretty much every kind of predator – this is why bird organisations advise against it. Get clever with your landscaping, you should be able to feed birds without endangering them, a certain amount of creative gardening and you can enjoy our feathered friends.

There are a variety of feeders available, varying in shape, size, looks and material in order to attract a bigger range of birds and encourage bird safety. We’ll quickly outline the types below:

  • Seed feeders: These are without doubt one of the most popular type of bird feeding stations on the market simply due to the amount of food you can fill them with; it can also be extremely varied in order to create a richer diet for the birds. These will really help attract wildlife in times of drought too. Make sure you have the right feeder to suit the type of seed you want to store as some are only compatible with specific styles & models!
  • Peanut feeders: Again, these vary in shape and design just like the seed feeders, but offer the ability of bigger food to be stored. However, the design will also stop the birds from swallowing the food whole, as this can lead to them choking; instead they have to peck for their food. This also has the side effect of birds staying in your garden for a longer time – it’s a win-win and would make a great gardening Mother’s Day gift as we wrote about.
  • Suet feeders: This style of feeder has a very similar look to a cage as they’re usually constructed from a mesh of wires; that said, they are one of the most efficient feeders out there. The design of these feeders will allow you to fill it with suet blocks or fat balls. And if you’ve opted for the block holder; you can also put scraps, bread or toast in there as a treat!
  • Feeding trays: Possibly considered one of the most alternative types of bird feeding; this consists of a tray (raised from the ground) which is often made from either wood or a type of metal and finished with a thin wire meshing on the base. This gives you the opportunity to provide food to birds that would be almost impossible to serve in a conventional type of feeder. It also offers easy clean-up at night for any uneaten food, and due to the design; rain will not make the tray overflow due to the fine meshing.

All of these feeders can usually be bought with optional protective qualities such as squirrel resistant caging or meshing. This will make it extremely hard for squirrels to get into and attack the birds; however, these are far more efficient on hanging feeders than they are on ground feeders. Squirrel protection also has the added bonus of making it hard for larger birds to get at the food, which enables the smaller, more vulnerable birds, to feed without worry. Don’t be under the illusion that anything is fully ‘squirrel proof’; if they were; chances are the small birds wouldn’t be able to get in there to feed either.

Make sure you read the ‘general tips’ at the bottom of this article in order to see where these feeders should be positioned to prevent predators snacking on your garden friends.

Feeding & Different Types of Food

Birds are those creatures that are absolutely glorious to watch and it almost breaks your heart to hear that many die in winter due to a lack of food. Now, it will come as a surprise to most, but the majority of garden birds actually rely on us [humans] to provide for them, especially throughout the winter months. Food is always plentiful in summer when we are outside eating and having barbecues.

When cold weather sets in, birds have a hard time sourcing food and they expend far more energy searching for it. This puts them into a never-ending cycle of struggle in which they’re looking for food in order to get the energy they need to find more food, not a situation you’d want to be in, right? It’s one of the things we should be preparing for when it snows.

Here’s a variety of foods that birds adore and more importantly need in order to feed themselves and their babies throughout the year:

  • Seeds: Arguably one of the most popular foods simply due to the variety on offer and the benefits it provides to the birds. Seeds are ideal feeder foods as there is a lot of meat and very little shell which makes it easier for the birds to get at. As well as this, they are also considerably high in fat content which is a bonus. The most common are sunflower seeds, Niger seeds and thistle seeds; all of which attract a wide variety of birds. Remember to keep some for yourself though, it’s always good to have free planting next year!
  • Mealworms: Whilst gross to most of us, mealworms can form a staple in a bird’s diet by providing them with much needed protein. They’re also the perfect food for parents to take to their little ones when they’re out searching for meals. If you’re purchasing dried mealworms, give them a quick soak before putting them out.
  • Suet: Most commonly used as a term for beef fat; this is safe to be fed to birds and other animals. It’s an easily digestible source of high-energy fats that are extremely useful during the winter months. Other foods such as seeds, peanuts and even fruits can be added to a suet block to vary the food and nutrient profile on offer.
  • Peanuts: These are a great source of food, providing both protein and fat all in one – however, they can also be dangerous. First off, buying from a reputable supplier is a must; second of all, do not put out roasted or salted nuts as this can lead to death if over ingested. Large nuts can present a choking risk to smaller birds (or those feeding their young), to avoid this, crush them up before putting them out.
  • Fruit: Just like us, birds love a fruity treat occasionally and fruits are a great source of energy due to water content and sugar. Rather than leaving whole fruits outside, cut or slice them up (at the very least halve them) and leave them on the bird table for garden visitors to enjoy. If you have any fruit trees in your garden, try and pick up any fruit that drops and put those on tables out of the way of predators, doing this will also stop birds going to the floor for the food!
  • Leftovers: Rather than chucking food you don’t want away, consider giving it the birds outside. A variety of common foods such as cheese, rice and even cereal can be left out for birds without any problem at all. Biscuits, dried fruits and other snacks are also fantastic; just make sure they’re small enough and moist. Also, avoid putting out fats from cooked meat and mouldy or out of date / spoiled food as this isn’t healthy for the birds.

There are of course other foods that birds can benefit from and enjoy, however this is just a run-down of some of the most easily available foods which can form a solid diet for a wide variety of birds.

General Tips

Here you can find a lot of simple tips that will keep birds safe and healthy – make sure you read this thoroughly otherwise you could end up doing more harm than good to your little flying buddies.

  • A bird bath is nearly as important as a feeder; as it provides them with a safe drinking source, a place to add moisture to dry food and even have a bath.
  • Make sure you clean bird feeders and baths often as food can quickly go mouldy and remnants of past meals can stay behind and clog them up as well as cause infections if ingested.
  • Place feeders and baths in safe positions. Do not place them close to fences(here’s an article on fence replacement incase you’re thinking of it) or too near to the ground as this can let cats and squirrels attack them whilst they are feeding. Try and put them high up in open space so birds have a higher chance of spotting predators in the surroundings.
  • As previously mentioned, if you’re going to offer dry food to birds, give it a quick soak in some water for 5 minutes prior to putting out. This makes dry food easier to chew and eat, whilst also providing a much needed source of moisture (especially if water sources are frozen over.
  • Feeding birds milk is a big no-no. Whilst it is a good source of protein and fat for us, birds can’t digest it properly.
  • If you see food on the floor, pick it up and place it in or on the appropriate feeder as this will discourage birds from feeding on the floor where they’re most vulnerable to other animals.
  • If you have a cat, put a bell around its neck as this will alert the birds to its presence and avoid any unnecessary birdie deaths. If other cats (that you don’t own) continue to come into your garden, give them a friendly shoo with loud noises or a bit of water… They won’t come back in a hurry!

Do nothing at all

This might seem like a slap in the face of everything we’ve just said, but hear us out for a minute. Chances are, your garden is a prime source of food for birds in general without you having to do anything at all, especially in summer.

Rather than treating your plants with insecticides, weed-killers and other harmful sprays and treatments, let the birds do the hard-work and reap the rewards. Also, using fewer chemicals will actually promote the health of birds as they won’t be subject to eating things that have come into contact with them. If you do have to use any kind of sprays or insecticides, read the label carefully first before applying and ensure it won’t do any damage to birds or other wildlife.

Hold off on garden maintenance where possible, I’m not saying let it get overgrown though! You might be inclined to trim the hedge or a few bushes, but for all you know, a little family of birds might have nested there – how would you like it if someone just cut away a few bedrooms from your house? Put off trimming and pruning until the autumn months(preferably November, there’s plenty to do then) if you can, as most birds will have moved on by then in preparation for winter. But if you do have to drastically hack away at some shrubbery, make sure it’s nest-free before you get the garden tools out.

That just about concludes our guide and talk on the essentials of bird feeding. If you think there are any key points which we’ve missed out, please let us know by dropping a comment below and we’ll add them into the article where appropriate!

5 Humane Forms of Bird Control for Gardeners

Some birds can be a nuisance pest for many people by making noise, stealing food, fouling areas and destroying your vegetables, and don’t get me wrong, I love wildlife and spend most of my time trying to attract birds to my garden with lovely projects such as bid feeders, but they have to be the right ones. In some places the pest birds such as seagulls and pigeons have gotten so out of control that they have become an issue for the tourism industry in those areas, there’s even downsides to keeping chickens. Here are 5 humane bird control scarer solutions and their limitations that are available in the UK that are suitable for your garden, but we warned fending off birds has it’s draw backs, for example who will naturally take care of the slugs. On the plus side they can carry disease so removing them will help improve the safety of your garden for children.

1. Wind powered scarers

Wind powered bird scarers are great because they don’t require electricity which is handy as power extension reels can be a nuisance in the garden, they can look good, be unnoticeable by other people and once installed they can be left. Because wind doesn’t blow uniformly, wind powered bird scarers such as the Whirlybird Repeller will rotate irregularly in the wind making a slight noise that is irritant to birds but not to humans. If a scarer moved regularly it wouldn’t take long for the pest birds to become de-sensitised to the motion of the bird repeller, so not ideal as a pest control.

Wind powered scarers do need wind to operate so on calm days there is a chance that the birds will re-inhabit the area. Therefore, to use these repellers successfully they are best being mounted on a pole in an area that has a sufficient air flow such as on boats, solar panels, at the bottom of the garden and outside eating areas for example.

2. Noise scarers

Bird scarers that use noises such as gun shots, ultrasonic and distress sounds to deter birds can be successful at first. However, continual use of the same noise can de-sensitise the birds because they learn that the noise poses no real threat. Therefore, the noise scarers become an ineffective solution for pest control and one that is an irritant to other people and yourself very quickly but they are good for the frugal gardener as they cost a few pence to make. If they are used as part of a combined pest control method they have much better results. However, these are not ideal for most gardens due to disturbing your neighbours and yourself.

3. Visual scarers

Visual scarers can be quite successful especially if they are combined with irregular movements due to the wind because the birds aren’t able to get used to a stationary/regularly moving vision. For example, the “hawk kite”, this is designed to fly from a pole in the wind to give the illusion of a bird of prey hovering. From the ground they look like bird of prey so the birds leave the area due to their inbuilt fear of predators.

Again birds can soon be accustomed to the sight of one of these birds, therefore, moving the hawk kite around the area of your garden in different locations will help to keep it effective.

4. Predators

This is the employment of birds of prey to circle an area where there is a bird infestation is a natural bird deterrent. These specific birds have also been trained to deal with the unusual environments and distractions that are not their usual environment. One if the best ways of helping predators is to keep the grass trimmed with one of these nice lawn mowers ideally. Hedges trimmed isn’t a bad idea either.

Although this method is successful whilst the bird of prey is in flight, once the bird is removed the pest species will return. Therefore, this form of bird control is perfect in areas where the infestation birds need controlling during the day, for example, in city areas where there are high densities of people that the pest birds affect. This isn’t a practical solution for protecting your garden though unless you happen to be a falconer in your spare time.

A decoy bird of prey is a much better option to a real one, however, because these plastic birds don’t move, the pest birds become very accustomed to the model and will soon be de-sensitised to the sight of it. One tip is to continuously move the model around your garden throughout the day so the birds can’t get used to it in one position.

5. Traditional methods – fake dead birds

A traditional method that for years farmers have adopted is to have a dead bird of the pest species present in an area that the species is a pest. For example, hanging a dead crow outside a corn shed. Although this is not humane to the dead bird it works surprisingly well because the birds will fly in to look at the bird, then realising the bird is not moving naturally they will avoid the area until the bird is removed because the dead bird signals danger. Have no fear, very realistic plastic dead birds can be purchased which is far more humane than the use of a real bird.

The major disadvantage of using a decoy dead bird as a deterrent is that it is very unappealing so it is a method best off employed in areas that no one visits/eats/shops etc so if you don’t mind seeing the fake dead bird in your garden then this is quite a good option.

Do have anymore humane forms of bird control for gardeners? Be sure to let us know!

How to Lay a Patio: A Step By Step Guide

If you like DIY projects and you’ve got a spare weekend or two, why not drag a mate along to help you lay some patio? It will make your garden look a fair bit tidier whilst providing some useful space which requires little maintenance. Sounds great to me! If you can enlist your mates for this, be sure to try to get them to help with the fence as well.

There are a lot of reasons why you might want to get rid of some grass and lay a patio in its place. You may have just got on the property ladder or bought a new house and you aren’t too keen on the current arrangement out back, perhaps you’re planning some landscaping or looking to add some curb appeal with a water feature.

You might have been living in a house for several or more years and you’re just a bit fed up with the back garden looking the same, or it’s overgrown and you’re planning a major overhaul. You might just want somewhere outdoors where you can sit down, chill out and have a barbecue with friends. Others might just hate maintaining grass and prefer to slab over it. Lawn mowers create two problems, firstly you need to use them and secondly they are expensive and break down but still a necessity to keep the lawn in good condition. Whatever your reason, we’ve got the solution!

It doesn’t really matter why you want to lay patio, all that matters is that you know how to do it. And that’s why we’re here today. We’ve put together a quick step-by-step guide on how you can lay your very own patio in the garden that gives you details on pretty much everything you need to know.

Why Shouldn’t I Hire A Professional?

You might be asking yourself, ‘why shouldn’t I hire a professional to do this for me?’ Well, it’s a good question, but give me a minute and I’ll quickly explain to you why you should at the very least try it yourself first, if you’re frugal this is for you.

  1. It gives you a sense of accomplishment as well as good exercise in the garden. Nothing makes you feel better than doing something yourself that improves your home; especially if your other half doubted you.
  2. A professional will likely cost you three times as much as it would to do it yourself; maybe more – ring around to get quotes and work out how much your time is worth.
  3. You’ll know you’ve done the job properly and not cut any corners if you’ve done it yourself.
  4. You can tell all of your friends how awesome you are every time they sit down outside with you, by telling them you put down the patio they’re standing on!

Obviously if you have no clue about DIY, we don’t recommend this for you as it is quite an intermediate to advanced job. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give it a shot. As the saying goes – you won’t learn unless you try, just remember to be safe.

Required Equipment:

  • Spade: You’ve got to dig up the turf from the garden at some point and you’ll certainly need a good spade for the job.
  • Wheelbarrow: There’s a lot of waste and material to transport during this project and a wheelbarrow will save you both time and effort. Two will come in handy if you have a friend helping out.
  • Lump hammer: Used to tap the slabs into place once you’ve lay them down. A rubber mallet will also do the trick.
  • Hardcore: You need a base for your slabs to go onto and hardcore is the most obvious choice unless you have specific requirements that need something else.
  • Mortar mix: Get your hands on some ready-made mortar mix (or make your own with building sand and cement). The amount you need will depend upon the size of the patio, as you’ll need to put down a bed of mortar and fill the gaps in between the slabs.
  • Vibrating plate compactor: Used for compacting your hardcore base to ensure a solid foundation for your patio. You probably won’t have one of these lying around so it’s best to hire one for the day.
  • Spirit level: You will need to know at all times if your patio is looking level or sloped; so an accurate spirit level should do the trick.
  • Wooden pegs & string: These will be used in conjunction with one another to create an outline for the edge of the patio. Wooden pegs will also be used as a measuring depth gauge when adding hardcore.
  • Paving slabs: What’s the point in going to all this work if you don’t have any paving slabs to lay down for your patio? Make sure you order the right amount for the area of your patio.
  • A mate & muscle: Doing this job alone is a fair bit of effort and having a friend lend a hand will certainly save you some serious time. It also requires a fair bit of muscle as you’ll be lugging around a lot of stuff which weighs quite a lot; if you’re on the skinnier side, just consider it a good workout!

Cost, Budget & Time:

We’ve outlined what you need above. Make sure you have all of the basic essentials; wheelbarrow, spade, lump hammer and so on. If you don’t have your own, see if you can borrow them from a friend for the weekend; otherwise you’ll have to incorporate the cost of these into your budget.

Slabs will cost anything from £15 per metre squared (p/m²) so factor this into the size of your planned patio. Realistically for an average sized patio of 3x3m you’ll probably be looking at a budget of £200 or more for everything, including the day hire of a vibrating plate compactor. You’ll probably want a pressure washer to clean your patio as time passes.

As well as the actual expense of this work, you also need to budget enough of your time to allow for completion. You’ve got to take into account all of the manual labour, drying time and the sourcing of all the equipment. The labour itself is likely to take you an entire weekend and drying will also take 24-48 hours; the longer you can leave it the better. Ideally you’d get the majority of the work done one weekend, allow it to set and then add the finishing touches the following weekend. To save time in sourcing, most equipment and essentials can be sourced online, we offer most of this equipment in our online gardening shop, delivered to your door; but obviously if you have a large DIY store local to you, this may be a quicker option.

Planning & Preparation:

All successful projects start with a lot of planning and this is no different. You need to make sure you have your plans laid out in a simple fashion which you can understand and reference during the work and why not get creative? What’s a patio without well organised plant pots and troughs, you can always consider hanging baskets and some vertical gardening too. We strongly recommend that you draw up a quick sketch of your garden and house boundaries; either use a piece of paper or software – whichever you’re most comfortable with. From this point you can easily address which parts you want to turn into a patio and work out measurements. Look into keeping the patio safe for your children, design it accordingly.

Don’t forget to take into account elevation; small changes in the gradient can cause issues during construction. However, a small angle to the patio will help ensure that drainage is adequate. Make sure that the slope is pointed away from your building and any of your neighbours’ buildings as this can manifest into a problem over a long period of time.

Before going ahead with anything, lay down the perimeter outline of your proposed patio with the wooden pegs and string mentioned earlier. This will give you a full idea of the size of your project and how it will look against your garden/house. It’s also wise to plan patios with right angles and straight edges to avoid extra work such as cutting slabs.

Ready to Start:

Now you’ve got all of the planning and preparation sorted; have a quick double check that you have all of the necessary hand tools and essentials to get started and then you can follow the step-by-step guide below. Remember, take it slow and make sure you’re as thorough as possible to prevent having to redo any work at a later date. If you’re in doubt about anything at all, consult a professional or someone who is well adept to DIY and seek advice before continuing.

Step One: Grab your spade and begin digging up the turf in the area you’ve laid out using pegs and string. I really rate an edging tool for neat and straight cuts. You can either dig up all of the turf, or cut lines in it and roll it up; people prefer different methods. Either way, you’ll want ensure there is a depth of roughly 15-20cm to allow for hardcore, mortar and slabs. Please note; if you’re laying patio against the house, make sure that your slabs are 15cm (or more) below the damp-proof course.

Step Two: Time to put all the hardcore down. But first, grab a few of your wooden pegs, measure 10cm and put marks on them; these will act as depth markers for the hardcore. 10cm is usually enough for most applications. Dig the pegs into the ground and begin putting down the hardcore layer. Remember that you want to create a very gentle slope in order to drain water away from the buildings; this can be done by using your spirit level and pegs. An average amount of drop per metre of patio is around 1cm. Therefore, if your patio is 3m long, you should have 13cm of hardcore at one end and 10cm at the other end to ensure adequate drainage; don’t go below the recommended amount of hardcore. Now use your hired vibrating plate to compact the hardcore down; this should give you a firm base. Some people decide to cover this layer with sharp sand, but it’s not strictly required. It needs to be good as you’ll probably want to put a water butt there too and that’ll be heavy full. So pay attention to footings.

Step Three: Put your slabs in the positions you’ve planned to lay them out. This will make sure that you’re confident and happy with how it will look. If for some reason you decide this isn’t what you want, stop immediately and re-evaluate the design based on where you’re at now. However, if you’re happy, carry on.

Step Four: Using your ready-made mortar mix (or a combination of five parts building sand to one part cement), put down a layer roughly 3-5cm thick and make sure to allow for the slope. Adding more mortar up to 8cm will be fine.

Step Five: Place the first slab gently on top of the mortar you’ve just put down. We also advise to start from nearest the building and work away from the house (or downhill); wetting the back of a slab will also help it to stick and position correctly first time around. After it has been positioned, gently tap the slab using your lump hammer or rubber mallet. It’s a good idea to use a block of wood as a buffer to ensure no damage occurs to the slab. Use your spirit level to ensure the slab is level and fill in any gaps underneath with mortar; then continue onto the next one. Knee pads will really help.

Step Six: This is simply a case of rinse and repeat. Continue to add slabs, making sure there’s a 1cm gap between each and repeatedly check to ensure slabs are level whilst also taking into account the gentle slope. Remember, do not step on slabs which have just been put down!

Step Seven: We strongly recommend you wait at least 2-3 days before walking on the slabs or filling the joints. If they’re damp from rain or it looks as if the heavens are about to open up, wait until a drier, sunnier day. Now you can finish up the joints by filling the gaps with your ready-made mix of mortar (or 3 parts building sand & 1 part cement). Continually compact the mortar into the gap using your trowel and then add more mortar to ensure a tight compact finish with no holes.

Step Eight: Before adding water to the mix, remove all excess mortar on the slabs. Make sure you do a thorough job as it’s easy to miss bits. After this is done take a watering can and gently pour it over the whole surface of the patio to wet the mix; then leave it to set.

How to Lay a Patio

Give it a couple of days, then stand back and admire your work. If everything has gone to plan, you should have a stunning new patio area for your family and friends to enjoy!

Vegetable Growing Tips To Help Get Your Kids In The Garden

Tips to get your kids in the garden

The fun and adventure of gardening is something that appeals to people of all ages. To children especially and they can learn from us, the buzz of exploring around the garden for the first time and getting their hands dirty can be a magical experience that leaves them engaged for hours on end. Knowing the right way to introduce your kids to the world of gardening however, can leave many parents scratching their heads, the first thing is to ensure you’re garden is child proof.

The to-do list of tasks needed to keep a garden in prime condition throughout the year can be tedious and the prospect of your little ones helping you get the lawn mower out or deadhead your plants is a non-starter altogether, they’ll be fascinated by scissors, shears, or secateurs. But far from being a dangerous experience, introducing your children to gardening doesn’t have to be dull or diluted.

One of the most interesting and creative ways to get the kids gardening is to attract birds into the garden. You could try making a nice bird feeder. Talking of birds, slightly bigger ones(chickens) keep kids interested for hours everyday. Once we put up our chicken coop my son religiously dug for worms everyday of the last summer. Be warned though, chickens come with some downsides.

Growing vegetables is a fantastic way of showing children the wonders of the natural environment and with such a wide range of options available, the fun never has to stop! It can start early in the season with a propagator and some plant trays.

Keeping kids interested

One of the biggest plus points of vegetable growing is the relatively quick amount of time it takes for them to harvest. Getting children to buy into an activity which gives very little back during the start of the growing process can be difficult.

But with many of the more popular garden favourites, children can see the results for themselves after a matter of weeks, instead of several months. As well as proving a rewarding experience for all involved, it’s also a relatively hassle free one. Most vegetables are extremely versatile plants that are simple to sow and generally low maintenance, great for a frugal gardener, meaning that parents of all gardening backgrounds can help their kids join in the fun,

 

Choosing the right vegetable

If you’ve decided to take the plunge and begin growing vegetables, it’s important to pick the right option for you. While you want to grow something that’s quick, easy and relatively low maintenance, it’s also important to try and find a vegetable that your children will want to eat. We’ve accumulated some of the garden favourites along with an easy-to-follow set of guidelines laying out the timescale for harvest.

Carrots

Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables with children and they’re a great way to get kids involved with the garden. you only need a few garden hand tools to get going. For early starters, carrots can be grown in a seed tray from around February indoors, before being transported outside come April. The best method is to water the roots regularly and be sure to snip excess seedlings off at soil level to keep them growing properly.

Tomatoes

  • When do I plant them? Early May time
  • Harvest time? Around 12 weeks
  • What am I sowing? Plants
  • When’s the latest I can plant them? April

Delicious, easy to eat and even easier to grow, tomatoes are the perfect choice to get your child into gardening. While you can grow from seed, growing from plant is a lot easier and it also allows your child to visibly see the plant develop. When using a grow bag, ensure that you put a growing bag frame over the bag and insert a cane next to each plant to help assist its development, tying the tomato to the cane every 10cm.

Courgettes

  • When do I plant them? Early Spring
  • Harvest time? Around 10 weeks
  • What am I sowing? Either seeds or plants
  • When’s the latest I can plant them? June

Courgettes are fantastic vegetables that help satisfy the more impatient child gardeners! When growing from seeds, start two seeds in a pot on a window sill before moving them to a permanent spot outside after a month. When you do this, make sure they’re at least a meter away in the ground and that they’re watered daily. A prolific vegetable, you’ll be able to pick courgettes up till around September after your first harvest.

Regardless of whatever vegetable you opt to grow, the process of planting it, nurturing it and then eventually eating it, is a great way of helping children get involved with the garden and understand more about how food is grown as well as getting them excited about eating healthier food.

Vegetables aren’t the only option, herbs grow really quickly in a trough on the window sill inside the house.

Growing vegetables is a low cost way of keeping children engaged and the educational benefits are a fantastic added plus of the process. So whether you fancy letting your kids grow their own tomatoes to put into their lunchboxes or harvest a few carrots for a Sunday roast, get to your online garden centre today and help kick-start the growing revolution!

About Shelly Smith

Gardening gives something different to each and everyone one of us, be it a hobby, a love of beautiful flowers, or our profession, we all share the love of a garden so join me; understand what a garden means to me. You’ll find thousands of useful tips in my website to save money whilst gardening; I love to write about what I do in the garden. I’m a devoted mother and a passionate home gardener for over twenty years.

Yours Sincerely Shelly

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